Noel Erskine, Technology Coordinator Norris Schools

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Does the future of great schools apps, require leveraging Google Apps for EDU?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I think the answer to this is yes.  Apps are moving to the cloud, and schools are moving to Google.  Apps that leverage the Google Apps account log-in, and integrate within the Google GUI make it easy for schools to deploy, as well as students and staff to utilize.  There are already some great free apps that integrate within the Google Apps GUI.
Easybib, Engrade, ExamGeneral, SlideRocket, and recently the new OpenClass product developed by Pearson. Everyone of these apps are currently free to schools. We recently deployed SlideRocket. This is an awesome presentation program that recently released the product free to schools with Google Apps.  This is a solid product, that brings the power of a top-tier presentation product combined with similar sharing and collaboration features of Google Docs.  Here is a sample, of a recent presentation I presented using this great tool.

Some educators may need to learn from these two 80 year old mothers using technology!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We must use technology to meet students needs in today's classrooms.

I believe that we are blessed with a lot of dedicated teachers in our country that are truly doing their best to educate the youth of today to prepare them for the world of tomorrow.  Many students bring a lot of baggage with them to the classroom that we must deal with in education. Combine that with state testing, student activities, and a variety of challenges we deal with on a daily basis... and it really makes you appreciate the value of a teacher and the impact they have on our students and ultimately our entire countries future. As one of my past Tweets indicated.... a teacher's impact can be amazing and a real bargain.  " The $320,000 Kindergarten Teacher."

I believe that a great teacher, will look to utilize any tool they can get their hands on to reach students in their classroom.  If you too believe that statement, then why would a teacher not be one of the most tech-savvy individuals you know? Yes, sometimes they are... and sometimes that may not be the case.  If you are an educator, I challenge you to improve your technology skills to increase your effectiveness in the classroom.  Yes, you still need discipline, student rapport, organization and empathy within the classroom... but with today's students you need the technology tools to really maximize student learning within your classroom.

Yesterday, I had one of our elementary teachers, send me an email about getting an iPad. Her email stated: "My sister just sent me this picture yesterday of my 80 year old mother and her 87 year old sister using their iPads to play bridge and e-mail each other!" She went on to indicate her interest in an iPad and her thought that "If my 80 year old mother can run one of these things, so can I". 
80 year old mother and her 87 year old sister using their iPads 

We need to be able to look at our parents, other educators, and our students and challenge ourselves with that same fervor and decide.... now is time for me to do this, and "Yes, I can use this technology."

After reading Tom Whitby blog article "Generational Divide in Education", October 17, 2011. I agree with his thoughts "This is not a generational problem. It is a learning problem. If I want to affect their lives (Students) in any way I need to do so on their terms with tools for learning that they accept and will use moving forward. I grew up with a slide rule, I don’t think they are even made any more. Why would I use it to teach a kid who has a mobile app that will take him much further than a slide rule ever could."

As educators, we must first learn to use this technology so we can meet students on their terms.  If we are not doing this, then are we challenging ourselves less than these 80 year old mothers that were willing to roll up their sleeves and learn to use a new technology!

Why we love Google Chrome books for our school district. 5 Stars Baby!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I am starting to field a lot of questions about our 120 + Google Chromebooks that we have purchased for our school district, so I figured I would answer these questions here, for all to see and share.

Which model and why?
For us, we went with the Samsung Chromebook series 5 Wi-Fi. .  Since these are not 1-to-1 take home devices in our district so the 3G was not a feature we were looking for.  I have not had a chance to look at the Acer models in person, but we chose the Samsung model for it's longer battery life. Acer does offer a better price point, so those are definitely worth looking at.  (As a side note... this is the first time I have ever had to call Samsung for tech support... but WOW... A real English speaking person in about 20 seconds every time... Kudos to Samsung on this one!)

Why the Chromebooks?
There are some limitations with each device, just like the iPad has it's limitations.  For long battery life, 8 seconds to log-in, and trouble free operation... we have been sold on the Chromebooks and love them so far.  To maximize their use, you really need to like the Chrome web browser type interface and plan on living on the cloud with Google Apps, Evernote, Dropbox, Diiago (My blog on Diiago here.)  and other cloud services.  One of the most overlooked features of the Chromebooks I blogged about here.  For a 1-to-1 device they may be the only device I would consider for our school district. (Battery life and low tech maintenance top the list.)  Personally I love the iPad, but I do not think it is a very good 1-to-1 device.

I love the Chrome Browser.
Being able to sync bookmarks, Chrome Apps, Chrome Extensions, history and more.... what's not to like?  There are so many awesome extensions that add to the functionality of web computing. Here are just a few from our web site. 

Where did you buy them from?
Right now, there are 3 companies that sell them, and we purchased them out-right for our district. As a school district we could purchase or lease them directly from Google.  If you purchase them from Google and have the Google Apps for Education, those Chromebooks will show up in your admin console where you have some management capabilities for them. (Set proxy, etc... )  In  our situation and deployment, this was not a feature we required, but may be something we would definitely want if we deployed them in a 1-to-1 program for students.

Cloud is a concept and must be taught?
Really.... Really.... Yes... Really.  Probably the hardest thing for a teacher to do, it to get used to going to the cloud (In our case Google Docs.) to start a new document.  They still want to click on the start menu and open up their favorite word processor, spreadsheet, etc...  These Chomebooks definitely help with forcing people to the cloud.  Students love the cloud... but teachers just need to be slowly moved to the cloud. One there, they like it.... but it is a process.

One final thought, I believe that Google Apps is a game-changer for schools, (Along with a lot of other cloud services.)  and these Chromebooks just help with that game. For more info, there is a nice YouTube video with more info on the program in schools:

This app doubles the value of an iPad in the classroom.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Splashtop's remote desktop tool allows your iPad tablet to control your desktop computer directly from your iPad. This allows a teacher to move around the classroom seamlessly while controlling their desktop computer, which in many classrooms is connected to an LCD projector.  It also allow's you to bring up flash content and other applications that normally could not be displayed on an iPad. 

As a technology coordinator, I appreciate how easy this application is to deploy and how seamlessly it works on the desktop computer and iPad. Currently a district can purchase this application for $2.99 so it's really an application that should probably be purchased for every staff member. (Which is what we are currently doing at Norris.)

Installing the desktop streaming software can be done on multiple computers, so a tech-savy teacher could even install it on a home computer that they could access from anywhere. (This would involve port forwarding on their home router, so this is why I say they would need to be tech-savy.)

This is a five star app for it's price and I really think it doubles the value of an iPad for a teacher in their classroom. 

Best resources for keeping up with iPads apps... Read on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

With so many iPad applications, how is a teacher to stay current with what's available?  That's a tough question, and there may be numerous good answers, but here are a few sites to keep an eye on:
Are the iPads a great one-to-one device? My answer is no. (For reasons I will not go into for lack of time and space.)
Are the iPads a great tool for education? My answer is yes, they have a lot of potential in the hands of capable educators.
Happy app shopping!